Long before Eli Broad, Rupert Murdoch and people willing to pay $140 million for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, there was Harrison Gray Otis. As Marc Weingarten reminds in his new book Thirsty, Otis solidified his status as a media baron in relatively economical fashion:
With the small profit of one thousand dollars that he earned from the sale of the Santa Barbara Press, Otis bought a 25 percent stake in the Los Angeles Daily Times…
When Otis bought his first quarter share of the Los Angeles Times, he had three other partners: Jesse Yarnell, Thomas J. Caystile and S.J. Mathes. Then Caystile died without warning in 1884. Otis’ mourning period didn’t last for long; he found a businessman from his old home state [of Ohio] named H.H. Boyce to buy out his partners and incorporated all of the newspaper’s operations under one banner. Boyce and Otis split their forty shares of stock evenly, and called their new venture the Times-Mirror-Company.
The focus of Weingarten’s very enjoyable book is the early development of Los Angeles as it pertains to water and the Owens Valley. But for media cognoscenti, the portions about Otis, his soon-to-be-competitor Boyce and an enterprising delivery man named Harry Chandler will provide added enjoyment. Right down to the idea that the Times-Mirror president and GM kept 50 rifles in his office.
To coincide with the Dec. 8 arrival of his latest book, Weingarten shared the music that helped inspire him while writing Thirsty, for a regular feature on the blog Largehearted Boy called “Book Notes.” It’s a set list that begins with the Louis Armstrong compositions “Potato Head Blues” and “West End Blues:”
“Armstrong is pretty much my favorite musician of all time. His trumpet tone just blasts out of these records, and he pretty much invented jazz singing, too. I love all of the Hot Five and Hot Seven sides; I just arbitrarily picked these two favorites. Los Angeles’ jazz scene didn’t take off until the 50’s, really, but Angelenos were certainly high-stepping to Armstrong in the 20s.”
[Jacket cover courtesy: Rare Bird Books]